STEVE EVANS has been afflicted by the traditional winter ailment of a heavy cold this week, but certainly no one can classify his Rotherham United side as under the weather at the minute.
A cure to a potential debilitating spell may have arrived last month in the shape of a clutch of new signings such as Conor Sammon, Jack Hunt, Adam Hammill and Danny Ward, but the Millers are also utilising some in-house remedies too.
The likes of Ben Pringle, after a difficult time this season, are stepping up and the upturn is just as well for all concerned, given that the February roster looks arduous for the Millers, starting with promotion-chasing Ipswich this afternoon.
Also up this month are Blackburn Rovers, Derby County, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Watford, ahead of a potential six-pointer with Millwall on February 28.
It is timely, then, that the Millers head into today’s game with a haul of four points from two games against Bolton and Charlton Athletic, a tally that could and should have been six, with Evans’s side denied a deserved three points at The Valley last weekend after a late concession in a 1-1 draw.
Many managers stoically stick to the mantra of performances and not results being the key component in a side’s well-being over the course of the season. Evans is no different and believes the portents are set fair.
Definitely fairer than they were in late autumn with the looming sight of a daunting February something United are better prepared for than they may have been earlier this term.
Evans said: “It’s a tough run. But I can remember thinking Exeter, Fleetwood and Bradford was a tough run (in League Two).
“I also remember looking at some of the games in League One against the likes of Preston, Swindon and Sheffield United being tough and here we are embracing a tough run in the Championship.
“But I really do believe in the squad we have put together in recent weeks and over a longer period.
“I really do believe in these guys and if we have the same desire and passion and commitment that we had against Bolton and Charlton with the same abilities, then we will be fine.
“We have got some players desperate to keep the shirt and want to continue and we have some desperate to get in the starting XI and got some games.
“We have got wonderful cover in our squad at the minute, but just need one or two more bits of quality.
“We are in a great and very healthy position squad-wise, financially and in terms of numbers.
“We’ve got Conor Sammon and Adam Hammill in until the end of the season, while Zeki Fryers has another two weeks here as well.”
Just as the Millers have grown into the new year, so recent signing Fryers, a highly-regarded talent during his formative years at Manchester United, is coming along nicely, along with the likes of Sammon, who lines up this afternoon against the club where he spent the majority of this season on loan before heading north.
Fryers’s one-month loan expires in mid-February and while Evans has yet to make a firm decision on his future, a few more positive performances could facilitate his path to an extended stay in South Yorkshire.
Evans added: “We have got Zeki until the 17th, post-Derby, and the wonderful thing is he has got better every game.
“When he arrived, it was fairly obviously he needed some match-time.
“But he got that time and has also had the benefit of working with the fitness squad, who work incredibly hard to get everyone fit.
“He has got better in every game, but that improvement has to continue to the 17th and we will have a positive chat with Alan Pardew (at Crystal Palace).”
The Millers may not be facing an Ipswich side who are firing on all cylinders, but Evans is mindful the East Anglian club’s mini-blip will end sometime – they head north in a far from dispiriting fourth place, but with just one win in their last six matches in all competitions.
But with their much-vaunted forward line of Daryl Murphy and David McGoldrick likely to be in tandem again today, Evans is reading nothing into their recent statistics.
Yorkshireman Mick McCarthy, Ipswich’s manager, is someone Evans has got to know this season and while the Scot’s respect for him will endure whatever happens today, it is all about business.
Evans said: “I think Ipswich have slipped up, but it’s no hidden secret in that period they have been without McGoldrick or Murphy.
“Together, they are as good as anyone in the league and when you put Derby County and Bournemouth up against that, McGoldrick and Murphy are two special talents.
“Arguably, each if not both can play in the Premier League.
“I have seen big Mick’s words and we know one or two people down there saying (McGoldrick and Murphy) will be on the grass at the New York. It makes it tougher, but it is certainly a game we are looking forward and positively at. But we recognise the strength of Ipswich Town, for sure.
“Mick is a very honest man. I said before we went there I was quite frightened and in awe of him.
“Since then I have spoken to him on a regular basis and he’s a gentleman and a bit like me – he says it as it is.
“It suits some people, but not all. He will see it as a game in which they get three points. It’s a big game for them as well as us.
“I was at a supporters’ gathering with the chairman and a number of people came up and said the one thing they respect is that we say it as it is and Mick McCarthy minces his words with nobody.
“He’s a good manager who should have never left Wolverhampton Wanderers; everyone knows that now. It has worked for the benefit of Ipswich Town.”